Graphic Anti-Smoking Posters Might Encourage Some Kids To Use Cigarettes

Jan 4, 2018

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control unveiled a series of anti-smoking ads intended to shock viewers called "Tips From Former Smokers" -- they showed graphic images of former smokers and the lifelong effects the habit left on their bodies. The CDC has said the campaign increased quit attempts in the United States.

Recent research from the RAND Corporation shows a new perspective: a graphic anti-smoking poster at a convenience store checkout actually made some teens more interested in using cigarettes.

The Pittsburgh-based study first determined if adolescents were at-risk for picking up smoking, based on if they had tried cigarettes in the past or planned to in the future.

The participants then spent time in a RAND-owned mock convenience store with typical snacks and tobacco. For some participants, graphic anti-smoking posters were visible at checkout.

The poster shown at the convenience store checkout during the RAND study. Adolescents who were more susceptible to smoking reported feeling more likely to smoke after viewing the image.
Credit RAND Corporation

While none of the participants tried to buy tobacco, those deemed to be predisposed to smoking said they were even more interested in cigarettes after exposure to the graphic poster. The poster had no effect on smoking-averse teens.

"These results were very surprising to us," lead author Bill Shadel said. "We fully expected that the graphic warning poster would affect all kids the same, but it turns out that's not the case."

Shadel said the research opens up more questions about tobacco susceptibility he would like to explore further.

"We'd like to understand a little more about what's going on in terms of levels of dependence or levels of experience with tobacco," Shadel said. "That might give us some insight into why they reacted the way that they did."

Because of this research, he said he would caution retailers against using graphic anti-smoking posters in stores.